Steve Jones was the current new kid on the block. None of us really knew how he came to join our company, but like so many before and too many after, he appeared, fell under the spell of JC's charms and died for what he believed in.
It was the end of June 1968 and we'd all gone to London's Hyde Park to see Pink Floyd perform at what was to be the first of a string of free concerts there by varying artists. As usual we all got stoned and confused and lost until there were only JC and me. No matter where we were we always got lost and went our separate ways, and then out of the blue we'd magically meet up again as if there was some kind of guiding light over JC's head.
At this stage our relationships with Magdalen and Carla hadn't fully gelled so we were still in the habit of wandering off with no explanation, but all else aside, for the better part the four of us were still pretty laid back about everything. Anyway, I was with JC and on top of every other illegal substance that was already in my stomach he decided to turn me on to hearteine. I don't know if that was the kosher name for them but hearteine were pills taken by people with split personalities. As with all drugs, they're fine in a limited quantity but as soon as you overdose they have unpredictable effects.
Generosity was one of JC's traits that I particularly liked and time and time again he'd used me as a guinea pig to try out some new pill or chemical that had came his way before tasting the elicitor himself. On certain occasions though, I'm sure it wasn't so much a generosity thing as much as him being more than willing to turn me on because he would always be guaranteed an unpredictable result. No matter what, if he wanted to throw an illegal substance or two down my neck for free I had no objections. And for my part, I would unwittingly become the source of his entertainment.
I have no recollection of Tyrannosaurus Rex doing their late afternoon set so I'm guessing that it must have been when they were on stage that we escaped for a wander and JC had given me well over the prescribed amount of hearteine. I was subsequently tripping my arse off when we met a bag lady who was eighty if a day. The thing that caught my eye about her was her baseball boots. She was dirty, smelly, had un-kept hair, probably hadn't slept in a bed for a month and all in all looked like a female version of Starkie the tramp from the NFO. And to finish it off she stood in front of us in a brand spanking new pair of baseball boots. We had no idea why she wore them or where she got them from as I proceeded to rabbit on like a long lost friend and tell her what wonderful taste she had in footwear, finalising with if you're ever in my neighbourhood look me up. Of course it was only an extension of my charming the birds out of the sky syndrome as had been the case so many times before when the girls had taken the initiative and egged us on during our speed fueled expeditions to Blackwood or wherever. And JC for his part was in tears of laughter, content in the satisfaction that his investment of the split personality tablets had again produced a just reward.
Those were the crazy kind of situations I always seemed to get into when I was with JC. Time and time again we'd whiled away complete hours laughing about absolutely nothing and talking total shit. It was one of the things that brought us so close and I'm sure one of the ties that bound us to Magdalen and Carla as they both loved shitt'n too. On one occasion back in Newport a crowd of us had dropped some acid and JC and I had gone on ahead as we walked through the town. The original plan was to sit under George Street Bridge and watch the stars above twinkle or listen to the tide from the River Usk below us ebb and flow or something as equally trippy that people on drugs do, but JC and I had other plans. On that occasion the two of us had only taken half a tablet each of the LSD instead of the obligatory one or two. The result was that we had a watered down effect on the psychedelic front but we talked utter nonsense for a good half hour which resulted in us going into fits of uncontrollable laughter - one of the effects of an under dose of LSD - which never seemed to end. Screwball and the others arrived twenty minutes later stating that they could hear us both laughing from the old Newport Bridge a mile away, and of course, on hearing that we laughed even more which only prompted his eternal statement one of these days you'll run out of laughs JC.
Back at Hyde Park we returned to the concert to catch Pink Floyd's set which comprised of Let There Be More Light, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, A Saucerful Of Secrets and Interstellar Overdrive. Drifting in and out of oblivion not helped at all by the psychedelic music on stage we eventually got our heads together enough to go back stage again. The rest of the crowd were there including Carla and Magdalen who were repeatedly singing "deboreedeb tell her that I said ee ed, deboreedeb tell her that I said" which was a twist on the words of a Tyrannosaurus Rex's big song Deborah mixed with Magdalen's tell him I said. There were only a few thousand people in the audience so it was pretty easy to come and go backstage. Besides, we knew half the people there in any case. Earlier, before he went on stage we'd talked to the folk troubadour Roy Harper for a while. We always seemed to be popping up in the same places and Roy knew all of us by name. We said our quick second hello to him and moved on to Roger Waters, the main stay of Pink Floyd. JC had met him several times before and I'd met him maybe twice. Roger was of the same ilk as us, an intellectual thinker with a good sense of humour who appreciated the more positive aspects of drug taking. He wasn't into drugs like we were though. I think he did speed and lightweight stuff like that but I don't think he'd ever taken acid or morphine. The rest of us had all had our moments of going over the top which was never too hard to do if you were a fresh faced kid growing up' and who just happens to be in the right place at the right time in the middle of a social revolution. The 29th of June 1968 at Hyde Park was one such time and place.
We stuck around for the after show entertainment which was more a case of whatever you could find to drink and whatever pills happened to be going than the lavish after show parties of today. The stage was being packed away and the bands said their farewells, so with a few hours to kill before getting the train back to Newport we decided to go swimming in the lake that runs through Hyde Park, The Serpentine. I don't know so much about swimming but none of us were in a suitable state to walk let alone swim. Nonetheless, skinny dipping was the order of the day and whilst I stayed on the bank with Carla the others took the plunge. Nobody went far out and none deeper than their wastes except Steve, who full of speed and whatever else had given him a false sense of self achievement went right out towards the middle. He was about a hundred feet out when he started shouting and waving his hands.
At first we thought he was fooling around but then it became evident that he was in trouble. Hornpipe, Mr Wha and Screwball went back into the water to try to save him but got back out as soon as they'd entered. Screwball was a very animated person in the way he contorted his face when deep in thought, and that was one such moment. You could almost see the cogs in his head turning as he tried to figure out in his mind what we should do. But as usual, he came up with nothing which only confused the rest of us even more. As if we needed that! Ours heads were so totally fucked that we just looked in bewilderment. In front of us our mate was drowning and behind us the trees were turning into beautiful king sized flowers with pixies singing to us from the petals while the clouds above turned into angels. And on top of it all the girls had just realised what was happening and were getting hysterical. Initially Magdalen had shouted back to Steve stop shitt'n but shitt'n he most definitely was not.
JC was the only one of us in any condition to do anything. As we lay there helpless he walked to the water and seemed to carry on walking to the middle of the Serpentine. JC was a good swimmer but in the reflection of the moon on the water it looked to us like he glided out to him. Maybe he was still on the land. The hallucinations of the concoctions of drugs we'd taken were overpowering and we really didn't know what was happening.
Alas it was too late. Just as JC was about to rescue him he went down. Back on the bank every minute seemed like hours but we knew we had to do something and it was times like that that I realised that what we were doing wasn't good but we did it all the same. When your kids you think you're invincible and then something happens that eventually wakes you up. But if your kids you don't learn. You just carry on doing the same stupid old things and you never realise just how crazy it all is until years later if you're lucky enough to survive.
I don't know how much time passed but Screwball was the first one to break the silence. I'll go and get help. Steve was still somewhere at the bottom of the water as we began to dress and Screwball, as if woken from a nightmare jumped up, and dressed only in his under pants ran to the restaurant overlooking the end of The Serpentine. The clientèle were mortified. Not at the thought of somebody drowning, but at the sight of Screwball dressed only in his baggy dripping underwear standing at the reception area of one of the most exclusive eating joints in town. Though none of us were with him when he entered the place I can picture clearly in my mind the vision of him standing there with the same dumbfounded look on his face that he always wore in times of confusion.
Later that evening as we were interviewed in Hyde Park Corner Police Station I had a relapse into my drug induced state! The vision of the old woman in the baseball boots came back to me and I got a fit of the giggles, and despite what had happened I had no control over it. The others understood but the police must've thought fucking hippies, serves em right that they lost their mate. And whilst I have never regretted any of my drug induced escapades, moments such as that were definitely eye openers to the pitfalls of such doings.
It was really weird returning to Newport on the train as we all seemed to come back to normality at the same time. That was something I could never understand about drugs. No matter what we took or what dosage we consumed, we all got stoned at the same time and eventually came down or around at the same time. That was the case at around three on the Sunday morning as we sat in one of the railway carriages old fashioned eight seater compartments. There was Mr Wha, Hornpipe, Screwball, JC, Magdalen, Carla, me and some obnoxious arsehole in one of the seats where Steve should have been. He was a suited and booted city gent type who had no time or patients for the younger generation, but there were no other seats available and the milk train stopped everywhere. So, the trip to Newport would take over three hours instead of the ninety minute daytime journey. Any normal person would grin and bear the company but not him. He had some bloody minded streak in him that had to challenge us. None of us were violent people but unfortunately he pressed all the wrong buttons at exactly the same time as we were coming back into the real world. JC's drug free response wasn't physical but was very aggressive. And that only started Screwball off who until that moment had been deep in thoughts of lord only knows what. In the matter of no time at all, the compartment went from a tranquil octet of assorted people minding their own business to a free for all with everybody screaming at the latest addition to the compartment, and it makes me think even to this day that some people ask for what they get.
And so, Steve was the first of several of our company's drug casualties as that weekend was to be the first of many trips to see bands in Hyde Park. And the ante was definitely getting higher in respects of the acts we were soon to meet and in the way that we were to conduct our social lives. The period of sixty- eight through to seventy-one was particularly prolific when it comes to festivals and concerts. And likewise, I can only guess that because of our ages the drug taking became more frequent and adventurous. The following summer was to see us return to Hyde Park first to see the newly formed Blind Faith featuring among others Eric Clapton, and for the record that was to be my first of several meetings with the so called guitar god. Then the following month in July we went back to see and meet the Rolling Stones and there was a nice little bonus thrown in the middle at the Bath Festival of Jazz and Blues.
The Blind Faith free concert was by far the biggest that we'd ever been to with a hundred thousand people attending. Being June, the weather could've been anything but it was a pleasant sunny day. Despite the size of the audience I still don't remember the security as being anything out of the ordinary, and the only real backstage memory I have was that there was a white caravan behind the stage where the artists came and went though we didn't know what went on inside its walls. The Rolling Stones gig a month later was a whole different ball game. There were hells angels everywhere and to be honest they were a pain in the arse. Throughout the day we'd watched the support acts and then all of a sudden JC was nowhere to be seen. What had happened was that we'd gone back stage and got split up. There were all sorts of PR and publicity and record company and A&R people and the likes so it was inevitable that nothing would go to plan. And of course we were right.
At one point or another the majority of us had got thrown out the back stage access all areas position we had and despite the reported two hundred and fifty thousand people who had turned up for the day we still managed to meet up at the front of the stage. All except JC that was! I mean, even Magdalen was with us but JC had disappeared. JC later told us that he'd bumped into the Edgar Broughton Bands mother Mama. Edgar and Steve Broughton's mother who also doubled up as their road manager was a giant of a lady who we referred to only as Mama, and no matter where we saw The Broughton's we saw Mama too. Of course we all knew the band and Mama pretty well by then but we didn't see them back stage, and they weren't even on the bill which in retrospect made JC's story a little suspect to say the least.
A major disaster was in the offing. The Stones were due on stage but they couldn't get to it. The Broughton's touring van was a black maria - a cops van complete with blacked out windows - in a previous life and it was decided that the Stones would sit in the back as it approached the stage. The audience for their part would think that the van was coming to collect the last of the stage equipment of one of the support acts and I have since been told that it was in fact the van belonging to the band Battered Ornaments that had been used and not the Broughton's which made more sense. No matter whose van it was it was a beautiful plan, but it didn't fool anybody. When you see a van making its way through a quarter of a million people flanked on all sides, front and back with hells angels, it doesn't take a genius to work out that its carrying more than a few microphones and amplifiers.
Of course, with JC being back stage where he'd been talking to Roy Harper who was also on the bill, he had a head start on us all when it came to the introductions. And some time after The Rolling Stones eventually found their way to the back stage area JC sent one of the hells angels to find us which wasn't too difficult as despite being thrown out of the artists only area we were still right at the front of the stage and in eye-shot of everybody. Welcome to the circus JC enthused as we re-entered the access all areas position that we'd not so long ago been ejected from. It was like a lunatic asylum with everybody cramming to meet the band.
Through JC we did get an introduction and a hand shake with the stars of the day but the Stones had other things on their minds. Only two days before, the bands former guitarist Brian Jones had drowned in the swimming pool of his Sussex home and Mick was learning the words of a Shelley poem that he was going to recite on stage in his memory. Charlie was banging his drum sticks on anything that didn't move, Bill we didn't get to meet, Keith looked totally out of it and the bands newest member Mick Taylor was practicing some licks to play on stage. The girls like the rest of us were enormous Stones fans and they were ecstatic so it was touch and go as to how long they could keep their cool and save from turning into demented screaming schoolgirl teenyboppers. But they held themselves together, and even though none of us ever dreamed that we'd get to meet the band we'd travelled a hundred and thirty miles to see, for once in our lives we acted with the true pomp and decorum of the British people we were.
As we moved out of the limelight and others moved in JC started telling us about the time he'd been missing. I've been hanging out with the boys he enthused, referring to the Stones as if he'd known them all his life. I asked Keith if he was turned on and smiling he answered yeah. They were all flying high on lord only knows what so I wasn't sure if Keith was turned on at the thought of playing to the largest audience in the history of rock music or just turned on. Mick was more concerned with rehearsing the Shelley poem so didn't say too much except for asking do you think it will be alright? But JC had been known to pepper his stories with a little colour from time to time so we never did get to find out if he actually did spend time with the band or if it was just bravado with a large slice of blagging as he introduced us, but we didn't care. We got to shake hands with the band we'd travelled from South Wales to see and that was all that mattered.
It was a few weeks prior to that when we'd travelled by train to the Bath Jazz and Blues Festival which was to be held in the Bath Cricket Ground. Unlike either of the Hyde Park gigs it was pretty low key despite having a host of up and coming progressive rock bands as they were called back then. The stage was no more than a bandstand or pagoda such as is seen at a flower show where a string quartet entertains the passers bye. My memories are a little vague now but I do remember the black pianist Jack Dupree getting an ovation as did our old mate Roy Harper. The big band for us though was the newly formed Led Zeppelin, or the New Yardbirds as they were temporarily known as a few months before. Little did anybody know at the time how enormous they would go on to be, but in those early days they were just four musicians as Robert Plant mingled with the crowds as he toured the festival on a half speedway half chopper motor bike. It was one of those moments I can still see vividly as I think back on him in his pink flower patterned shirt just shooting the breeze with the audience.
It was at the end of 1969 on a cold December night when we went to Bristol Colston Hall to see Delaney and Bonnie. They were a man wife musical outfit who were touring Britain with an all star backing band, some of who would go on to be a part of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tours the following year. They weren't necessarily my musical bag but JC had got in touch with us and said we've got to go as The Beatles George Harrison would be appearing with them. I'm assuming that George got roped in by his friend Eric Clapton who was a regular band member. This was around the time that JC and Magdalen had started their love affair with London so, as we were only seeing them sporadically it was a perfect excuse to have a night out with them socially and of course we wanted to see the ex Beatle back on stage so it was an offer that couldn't be refused. Only Carla and I were invited though.
It was the first and possibly the only time that Hornpipe and especially Mr Wha were deliberately excluded from the company. It wasn't to be the usual free for all of the past and JC didn't want Mr Wha creeping up and scaring the shit out of some unsuspecting celebrity with whaaaaa in their ear. All else aside, with George being there we were expecting it to be a little chaotic and as it happened, when the word of his pending appearance got out on the local six-o-clock news chaotic is exactly what it was.
The four of us took the train from Newport to Bristol Temple Meads Station together and upon arriving went straight to the booking office of Colston Hall which at that point still wasn't sold out for the nights concert. JC used the booking offices phone to call one of Eric's entourage. These were still primitive days and long before mobile phones but we got the same result all the same. We still didn't know who he was talking to as JC announced Magdalen's here and I brought a few friends. The message he got was that we had to go around to the back entrance in Trenchard Street and someone would meet us there. I have no idea who the mystery chaperon was who greeted us at the Trenchard Street back entrance, but I guessed him to be one of the regular visitors to Eric's Surrey home as he recognised both JC and Magdalen immediately. As we were introduced to him he asked JC is everything sorted? which I assumed to be drug related. Of course I asked JC later what it was all about, but he just gave me one of those stupid smiles he gave to everybody when he didn't want to respond.
It was Magdalen who eventually opened up to Carla a month or so later and filled her in with the whole trip to London rock star, heroin, Clapton country home, Jimbo, drug scene, saga that they were all living, but at the time I don't think Eric, JC or Magdalen were heroin users, or if they were it was recreational if there is such a thing as a recreational heroin user. It was a way of life that would continue for the next few years in which time Eric, JC, Magdalen and a whole host of others would become totally dependent on the drug and Eric would collapse on stage in front of nearly twenty thousand people at the first Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971. I'd like to think that JC had nothing to do with it but alas, in those circles back then there was no innocence. And by the same token I felt a little sorry for Magdalen as she just got swept away with the whole thing. JC was the real junky not her, and I knew that if she was left to her own devices she could kick the habit but her real drug was JC. Like so many who had met him and fallen under his spell she was totally addicted to him.
The story went that a guy called Jimbo (who I'll get to very soon) had been Eric's main supplier of barbiturates, amphetamines, mandrax and whatever else for some time and it was at the latter's Surrey home that JC and Jimbo had met again a month or so previously. On the 2nd of December in Bristol though Jimbo couldn't make it due to other commitments but had supplied JC with all the accruements to ensure that his client and any further customers needs were fully satisfied. And that in a nutshell is how we came to meet George Harrison.
Sure enough, as predictable as ever it was access all areas for the chosen few which included us. The whole backstage area was like a circus. I don't think I've seen such an oddball selection of people in my life. But despite the big names like Carl Raddle, Dave Mason and Bobby Keys I couldn't take my eyes off Rita Coolidge. She could've been Carla's sister they were that alike. Right down to the bra-less tops, with their nipples protruding through the front of them like walnuts.
After the show we went to a party but Carla and I left early to catch the milk train when George Harrison didn't show. He had somebody drive him back to London a hundred or so miles away. The milk train is exactly what you would expect, a train that transports the milk from one part of the country to another. And tagged on for good luck were a few passenger cars which is how we got home at three in the morning. JC and Magdalen followed the musical entourage to the next gigs in Scandinavia while Carla and I continued our lives in South Wales with Hornpipe, Mr Wha and the rest of the gang. And whilst we still saw JC and Magdalen most weekends up to the Phun City Festival six months or so later we weren't to see Eric again for another year.
Though life was never to be the same in Newport without JC and Magdalen there were still more than a few memorable events and it was around about the time of the Colston Hall gig that Starkie the tramp had his first leg amputated. He was shortly to lose the other and die not long later underneath the arches where he lived beneath the flyover road that bypassed the main town castle and rejoined Dock Street adjacent to the area where we drank in The Trout, The Market Tavern and The Black Swan. But before the fateful day Jimmy in his own inimitable way had noticed the footwear display outside a shoe shop, and as it was coming up to Christmas had taken it upon himself to relieve the display of a sample of a brown brogue on the premise that one shoe was no good to anybody except a one legged man. A few days later he proudly handed the Christmas gift wrapped parcel to Starkie in the New Found Out. Jimmy had an uncanny knack of getting things wrong though, like the time he tried to break into the ticket office at Penarth railway station, and it was only when Starkie looked down at the left shoe in his hand that Jimmy realised that it was Starkie's left leg that had been amputated.